Editor at Large, Time Out LondonI didn’t believe it. Who would? And besides, I had other stuff on my mind. When the first plane slammed into the towers I was in a military supply store outside Tel Aviv trying on a flak jacket.‘This one,’ the salesman told me, ‘is cheaper but it doesn’t cover your neck.’ I had enough money for the cheaper one and a drink, or the expensive one and no drink.‘Well,’ I said, considering how dangerous it might get on the West Bank later that day, ‘things aren’t that bad at the moment. I’ll take the cheaper one.’The call from London came just as the car passed Megiddo, heading towards the Green Line, the border between Israel and the Occupied Territories. It seems suspiciously appropriate but I was driving past the biblical site of Armageddon when I heard about the end of the world as we knew it.
It was my friend, the journalist Bill Borrows, who had opened a bottle of wine and turned on the television to find all hell breaking out.
‘They’ve flown a plane into one of the Twin Towers.’ ‘Who has?’‘
I don’t know. Jesus, there’s another one.’
In the days after the attack, things did get dangerous in the Occupied Territories. When a small rent-a-mob cheered on the hijackers outside the Old City in Arab east Jerusalem a convenient myth was born for Ariel Sharon’s government: that the Palestinians were allied with Al-Qaeda. Soon enough Israeli tanks rolled into the West Bank. No Palestinian I met supported the outrage, rather they felt the same as the Londoners I talked to when I got back: shocked at the loss of so much innocent life, offering support to the people of New York and convinced that those behind the attacks should be held to account.
There was a lot of goodwill towards New Yorkers. There still is, even though it’s hard to get there at the moment. But our long-lasting affection for a city that has no natural liking for us – in the past its citizens supported Irishmen who schemed to blow us up – has been dissipated by the lies we have been told by our government.
In the years that followed 9/11 Londoners have marched against a war in Iraq that was supposed to punish the hijackers (although none of them were Iraqi) and eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (although, as our leaders well knew, they didn’t exist). When our tubes and buses have been blown up we’ve been called idiots for wondering if the attacks were in any way connected to our disastrous foreign policy and London bobbies have reacted to the threat of militant Islam by assassinating Brazilian electricians. As I write, the Metropolitan Police have arrested more Muslims for an alleged plot to blow US-bound passenger jets out of the sky, perhaps as that Twin Tower-less skyline was about to come into view. But now, sadly, the main legacy of 9/11 is cynicism.
Despite this there remains, five years after that terrible Manhattan morning, the feeling that the US is our friend. But it is an emotional connection, no longer political: the disaster in Iraq and the ruins of Beirut have ended that forever. It’s not America’s fault but our slavish, lying government’s and those, like me, who voted for it. The truth is, we don’t believe them any more. Who would?
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